Photo: gnislew via Flickr
Investigative journalist for NBC Michael Isikoff published on Monday ground-breaking documents summarizing Obama’s legal justification for extrajudicial drone killings of Americans.This document set off a firestorm of debate centered around the general vagueness of the language contained therein.
Much of it was terrifying, but we’ve narrowed it down to seven key linguistic issues, and their implications, that we consider the most troubling.
Jameel Jaffer, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, writes:
According to the white paper, the government has the authority to carry out targeted killings of U.S. citizens without presenting evidence to a judge before the fact or after, and indeed without even acknowledging to the courts or to the public that the authority has been exercised. Without saying so explicitly, the government claims the authority to kill American terrorism suspects in secret.
This means if the administration murders someone, it cannot possibly be prosecuted.
Jaffer also describes the Justice Department's use of the word 'imminent' -- as in 'imminent attack' -- as so loose that the criterion could be applied to almost anything ... 5 days? Minutes? Months?
Jaffer says that it has been so redefined that it's lost all relevant meaning -- 'It's the language of limits--but without any real restrictions.'
By widening out imminent in terms of time, it means that the administration can strike targets while they're in the shower, cutting toe nails, or taking a nap.
The memo describes Al Qaeda as a 'terrorist organisation engaged in constant plotting' against the U.S. So as long as they perceive Al Qaeda exists, the executive branch can conduct extrajudicial killings.
This means the next president can conduct the same exercise of power. The authority to kill without transparency continues so long as any executive branch perceives a threat, possibly (and probably) forever.
The following justification for crossing borders of countries with which the U.S. is not currently at war -- countries 'unwilling or unable' to mitigate 'terrorist threats' themselves -- potentially gives other nations a foot in the door, under the Constitution, to target their own definitions of terrorist threats inside U.S. borders.
From Jaffer: 'The white paper also suggests, incorrectly, that the courts have endorsed the view that there is no geographic limitation on the government's exercise of war powers.'
In short, a foreign nation can claim the right to strike inside the U.S. border against anyone they consider a terrorist.
Much like the lack of necessity to show evidence before or after a strike, the Obama administration has also tipped power precipitously into the hands of the Executive Branch.
In grade school, every American learns that each branch of government has checks and balances against the power of the others. In this case, presently, no such check exists -- the Executive Branch acts unilaterally (and until a law is passed requiring transparency to some degree, in perpetuity).
Obama, who OKs these death penalties as summarily as Judge Dredd, is Judge, Jury, and Executioner.
There is never a proper, stringent definition of either 'armed' or 'violent' -- as in 'armed' terrorists committing 'violent,' 'imminent' attacks.
Can a terrorist be armed with a computer keyboard, a microphone, a computer? And can his communication be considered a 'violent' attack?
This means that members of Anonymous, for example, are not far behind.
With this use of words the administration moves aggressively into the space between what's legal and what's criminal.
The memo cites a carried out death sentence as an example of when the state can lawfully execute a U.S. citizen--though it ignores how a death sentence is only conducted following a rigorous examination of evidence.
This term interchangeability of 'lawful' and 'not unlawful' should recall memories of George Orwell's newspeak, which sought to promote state power through deliberately ambiguous language.
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